Holiday references, decorations and affectations were kept to a tolerable minimum at Universal on Saturday at the first night of this year’s KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas concerts, where an impressive lineup of many of the past year’s alt-rock radio favorites, including Incubus, No Doubt, Papa Roach and Moby, offered an enjoyable series of 30-minute sets.
Kicking things off with a bang was arguably the best live band of the entire two-day bunch, Texas quintet At the Drive-In, whose very physical approach to modern hard-rock is a sight and sound to behold. Blistering songs from the group’s current album “Relationship of Command” (Grand Royal) made an immediate impact on the those attendees smart enough to arrive early.
Brit-pop band of the moment Coldplay, formed in 1998, made their American live debut here and offered a strong set of guitar-based, emotion-laden songs comparable in style to Travis, with similarities also to Oasis and Radiohead. The group’s music is bright and airy and melodic, while singer-guitarist Chris Martin’s edgy lyrics describe dark, scary places deep in his soul. Definitely a group to watch.
Bland rock band 3 Doors Down earned the Grinch award for the evening by storming off the stage after playing just two songs, reportedly because the group’s singer was unhappy with the sound on stage. Only he among the 10 acts on the bill thought the sound was so bad to justify blowing the show off. Anyway, 3 Doors Down is the worst group of the lineup, so little was actually lost.
The next band up, Incubus, made up for their predecessors’ lack of holiday cheer with an excellent 6-song acoustic set, comprised of songs from the band’s platinum album “Make Yourself” (Epic/Immortal), while backed by an 11-piece string section. The interplay between the strings and band DJ Kilmore, arranged by conductor Susie Katayama, was especially sweet.
Techno freak Moby turned the place into a faux psychedelic rave with a fine display of eclecticism and enthusiasm; the bald musician raced between bongos, keyboards, acoustic guitar and his mike stand. No Doubt singer Gwen Stefani joined Moby for a winning take on their current duet single “South Side.”
Deftones were as strong as ever, powering through seven rock-solid tracks from their three Maverick albums. Such standout songs as oldie “7 Words” and recent single “Change (In the House of Flies)” were heightened by singer Chino Moreno’s forays into the crowd. Pop-punk nerds Weezer are making a comeback and they impressed with faves from their self-named 1994 debut, as well as the new “Christmas Celebration.”
Anaheim’s No Doubt were able headliners, storming through an energetic and exciting 45-minute program of their biggest hits, including “Don’t Speak,” “Just a Girl” and recent issue “Simple Kind of Life.” The always glamorous Stefani was all ready to meet Santa, dressed in red hooded jacket and tied around the waist with a bright bow. A flurry of machine-made snow flitted from the ceiling following “Spiderwebs.”
The dark and brooding strains of Papa Roach closed the show, which started at 6 p.m. and ended after 11. The band’s unimaginative blend of metal, punk and hip-hop was a decidedly negative way to end the otherwise fun evening, explained only by the group’s current popularity.